Phnom Penh Municipal Court has summoned pro-government media personality Soy Sopheap for questioning over allegations that he tampered with written correspondence addressed to a rice trading company, lawyers said yesterday.
Court officials said Lim Bun Heng, director of the Loran Import-Export Company, lodged the complaint last month, accusing Mr Sopheap of criminal infringement of correspondence, a charge punishable by between a month and a year in jail and fines of up to $500.
“Myself and my client will answer to the court on Feb 10 in the afternoon,” said Kuy Thunna, Mr Sopheap’s lawyer, adding that Mr Sopheap had also filed a criminal complaint against Mr Heng on Jan 4. He declined to elaborate on the details of either case and said that his client had received the summons from the court on Tuesday.
Both Mr Sopheap, who is director of Deum Ampil News and a presenter for government-aligned Bayon TV, and Mr Heng declined comment on any specific details related to the case yesterday.
“I request that the court apply the press law in my case because I am a journalist,” Mr Sopheap said yesterday without explaining.
Mr Heng’s lawyer Chann Vichet said that the case was related to a dispute between the company and Mr Sopheap and that he could not provide any further details.
“I did not know that the court had summoned Soy Sopheap and in which case as there are many cases related to him,” he said.
Deputy prosecutor Hing Bunchea said that he was unaware of the exact reasons behind the complaint against Mr Sopheap. However, he said that Mr Heng had filed the complaint against Soy Sopheap for reasons that involved the creation of a Deum Ampil radio station in Battambang province.
In his years working in journalism, Mr Sopheap has carved himself out a reputation as a feisty personality and self-styled political fixer for the government.
In February last year, he appeared on Bayon TV calling the followers of Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva a “family of thieves.”
In 2009, he lodged a criminal complaint leading to the arrest, trial and conviction within hours of journalist Ros Sokhet on disinformation charges for sending hostile mobile telephone text messages.
He was released in October after the Appeal Court reduced his two-year sentence.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said that, with misdemeanor charges, Mr Sopheap should not be detained by the court ahead of trial.
He said that the law contemplated an individual who illegally opens or destroys a letter or e-mail destined for another recipient. “For e-mail, we must look at why they have access to the e-mail,” he said. “If it’s on Facebook, it’s public and everyone can have access.”
He added that, for a guilty verdict, judges must find that the accused intended to open the correspondence illegally.
Article 317 of the penal code says that the accused must show “bad faith” in opening the written correspondence in order to be held liable.